Environmental Education Coordinator Kris Bennett summarizes what Friends School of Minnesota has been up to this fall in environmental education. This school year, Kris is collaborating with teachers school-wide to further develop and integrate environmental education into our curriculum. Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to.

Faculty Professional Development: Place-Based Education

Friends School  of Minnesota faculty started the 2012 School year with a visit from Environmental Educator, David Sobel. The Environmental Education committee planned the event, and faculty prepared for the visit by reading Sobel’s book, Mapmaking With Children.

Faculty then dove into the topic of Place-Based Education and how to use the local community and environment as the starting place for building curriculum, community bonds, appreciation for the natural world, and a commitment to citizen engagement. The idea of place-based education is a natural fit for Friends School with our commitment “to include environmental education in our programs in order to promote a sustainable future for all life.”

All School

This fall, many grade levels participated in projects on the school grounds and in the neighborhood.  This included:

  • the continued management of the school’s successful compost and recycling program
  • the planting of raspberries, plum trees, and cherry trees in our edible schoolyard
  • the exploration of fall seeds and leaves in our native prairie garden
  • the study of native Minnesota trees
  • a tour of the mountains of commercial compost at nearby Kern Landscape Resources
  • the planting and watering of Minnesota trees with the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation at Horton Park Arboretum (see Kris’ post  Planting Shade and Snacks for the Future)
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Learning about compost at our neighbors, Kern Landscape Resources
Planting trees across the street in Horton Park
Planting trees across the street in Horton Park

Kindergaten-2nd Grade: Farm and Food

Grade specific units this fall included a further exploration of Farms and Food by students in Kindergarten through second grade.

Kindergarteners attended a harvest party at the Hamline High Rise next door with our elderly neighbors to celebrate a successful experiment with raised garden beds.

Kris Bennett and 8th grader Henry prepare for a tea party with our senior neighbors.
Kris Bennett and 8th grader Henry help prepare tea for a harvest party with our senior neighbors.

Kindergarten-2nd grade students hiked to the community gardens to research which roots, fruits, stems, and leaves were harvestable in the fall.

A visit to the community garden
A visit to the community garden

They ventured to the Lake Country Land School to hike, harvest pumpkins and shuck corn, and to Zweber Farms to meet busy cows producing milk for Organic Valley. (See Janet’s post Farm Field Trip: Where Our Food Comes From.)

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At Zweber Farm

They celebrated the harvest season with a harvest festival where they enjoyed homemade treats such as hot popcorn, roasted pumpkin seeds, sweet potatoes, applesauce, and fresh butter.

The kindergarten continued the farm focus throughout the semester with an integrated art unit about bees and honey. (See Marshall’s post: A Hive of Learning; A Progressive Education Project About Bees.)

They wrapped up the season with a ‘Farm to Table’ program at the Mill City Museum which followed the journey of wheat from the field to the biscuits in the baking lab.

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Kindergarten hike

3rd/4th Grade: Pike Island/ Fort Snelling State Park

Third and fourth grade students embraced the Mississippi River, Minnesota plants and animals, and the National and State Park system through the lens of Fort Snelling State Park.  A naturalist from the Department of Natural Resources brought in furs to teach students about Minnesota mammals. Students then traveled to the park to study the river and journal and sketch from Sobel-inspired “power spots” on Pike Island.

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Learning about mammals at Fort Snelling State Park

They worked hard on two service projects: cleaning up over 1000 pieces of garbage from the shoreline and pulling mounds of invasive buckthorn saplings while partnering with the Mississippi River Fund and National Park Service. (See Kris’ post: Third and Fourth Grade Field Trip to Fort Snelling State Park.)

They also practiced GPS and look forward to snowshoeing, fish seining, and studying geology on future quarterly visits. Between all park visits, students honed their familiarity with Minnesota phenology: the way specific MN plants and animals are influenced by changes in weather, temperature, and daylight.

5th/6th Grade: Mississippi River

Fifth and sixth grade students immersed themselves in a year-long study of the Mississippi River, integrating humanities, science, math, and art, with monthly trips to locations up and down this incredible system.

They paddled seven miles through the urban wilderness of the Twin Cities from Hidden Falls to Harriet Island with Wilderness Inquiry.

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5th and 6th graders canoe the Mississippi River

They celebrated the opening of Coldwater Spring National Park site by meeting the National Park project director, documenting the early stages of prairie restoration, and mulching over 100 new trees in the oak savannah. (See Kris’ post: Coldwater Spring 5th and 6th Field Trip )

They participated in the National Park Climate Challenge at Fort Snelling with the Will Steger Foundation and toured the St. Paul Regional Water Services to understand the process of creating clean drinking water.

Next semester, they will explore a wastewater treatment facility in Red Wing, take a ‘Water Power’ tour at the Mill City Museum, and make return visits to both Fort Snelling and Coldwater Spring parks.

7th/8th Grade: Crosby Farm Park

Next year, seventh and eighth grade students will focus on Crosby Farm Regional Park, another site on the Mississippi River which Friends School has been studying for over 18 years. They plan to conduct new long-term research in this area and will begin removal of invasive garlic mustard in spring of 2013.

In Summary

A close look at the environmental education program at Friends School of Minnesota shows that we are a leader in our approach. National Environmental Education guidelines state that direct experience with the local environment fosters awareness and appreciation that motivates learners to further questioning, better understanding, and appropriate environmental concern and action. It is evident that the Friends School embraces this direct experience with the local environment at many levels. It is also clear that students demonstrate a rich understanding of the world around them and are motivated to give, generously, the many hours of service they do to making the world a more sustainable world for the future.

I look forward to  many more environmental education projects and outings this winter and spring!

– Kris
Environmental Education Coordinator